North Omaha

Our History

Founded in 2011 by Brigitte McQueen, The Union for Contemporary Art was created in response to the needs expressed by artists and others who believed the arts to be invaluable in Greater Omaha. When McQueen surveyed the city, she recognized the greatest potential for arts programming in North Omaha, where years of disinvestment and the stigma of race and poverty had drawn an obvious line between North Omaha residents and the rest of city. McQueen set out to build bridges following her belief that the arts have the power to connect people and communities and serve as a vehicle for social justice and civic engagement.

In 2011, The Union moved into its first home on Burdette Street, in a former food pantry owned by Omaha Economic Development Corporation. In January 2017, the organization moved to its current home in the Blue Lion Center at the intersection of 24th and Lake Streets, once the epicenter of African American arts and entertainment. The Blue Lion is located in an area historically referred to as the Near North Side neighborhood. During its “golden years,” from the 1920s through the early 1960s, the area flourished as a vibrant and bustling economic and cultural corridor. Near North Side venues contributed significantly to the evolution of America’s jazz and big band legacies. The Union’s presence in the building honors this history and serves as a beacon of hope that the arts will thrive here again.

Our Home

The Union for Contemporary Art is located within the North Omaha community, a segment of our city that covers more than 30 square miles and encompasses more than 50 unique neighborhoods. African Americans head approximately 73% of households. Following a heightened period of civil unrest in the mid to late 1960’s, the area entered a period of rapid decline followed by nearly five decades of systematic disinvestment and disregard. Today, a multitude of community initiatives and new organizations are bringing hope that this trend is finally beginning to reverse.

In 2011, the North Omaha Village Revitalization Plan was completed by community stakeholders that identified North 24th and Lake Streets as the ideal epicenter for revitalizing an arts and cultural district in North Omaha. Although The Union was not born out of the city-approved plan, our successful establishment, neighborhood focus, and relocation into the Blue Lion building position us to proudly play an anchor role in this long-held goal. Coinciding projects such as Seventy5North’s Highlander project, The OEDC’s Fair Deal Village Plaza development, the renovation of Adams Park Master Plan and the development of No More Empty Pot’s facility, among others, are collectively changing the face of North Omaha and creating a renewed interest in the area.

Median household income of The Union’s surrounding zip codes (68111 & 68110) is 49% less than the city’s median. Within these zip codes, 42% of residents live below the national poverty line. In 2014, Nebraskans for Peace noted the North Omaha area as having the highest child poverty level of any U.S. Black metropolitan area. The community also contains the most populous urban food desert in the state of Nebraska, with many residents lacking access to nutritious food.

The Union for Contemporary Art is working closely with our community partners to address these issues in our community. We strive to strengthen our community by rising above the lines that divide us — racially, socially, and economically — so that we may become a more unified and culturally vibrant city. We are committed to using the arts as a vehicle for social justice and civic engagement, as well as individual and collective empowerment.